Last night, President Obama held a press conference in which he outlined his plans for addressing the growing threat of the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL, in the Middle East.
The President started off his speech by questioning the very legitimacy of the organization and its core beliefs.
“We continue to face a terrorist threat… ISIL is not a state, and it certainly isn’t Islamic… ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.”
The President used the speech to reiterate his position that while the U.S. military would make wide use of air-strikes against ISIS, he would not be putting any American troops into combat missions.
“Last month I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then we’ve carried out over 150 successful air-strikes in Iraq.”
“American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves.”
He did say, however, that the United States would lead a broad coalition to systematically destroy ISIS:
“With a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.”
“We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”
In his speech, the President laid out a four-part strategy for destroying ISIS.
Step 1: The first part of the plan involves a, “systematic campaign of air-strikes” against ISIS targets. Obama also said that the U.S. would coordinate with the Iraqi government to carry out joint missions:
“Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense…
“Moreover I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”
Step 2:“…increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.”
Obama announced that the U.S. would send 475 additional service members to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the region, though he stressed that they would not have any combat role.
The President also stressed that the moderate Syrian opposition groups (the ones trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashr Al-Assad and his government) were the key to destroying ISIS’s stronghold in Syria.
“Across the border in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight I call on Congress, again, to give us additional authorities, and resources, to train and equip these fighters…
“We must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL.”
Step 3: “…continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks.”
The President emphasized that truly destroying ISIS would mean pursuing a broad array of counterterrorism strategies, saying,
“…we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.”
The final step was to, “…continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization.”
Obama stressed the need to protect moderate Sunnis and Shia Muslims along with the tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities living in the region.
“We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands,”
Obama went on to talk about the vital role the United States played in the modern world, emphasizing that it went beyond a strictly military role.
He cited the U.S.’s involvement in Ukraine, saying that America,
“…rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny.
He also referenced the role that American scientists, doctors and health workers are playing in fighting the spread of the increasingly deadly Ebola virus in Africa, as well as the role the U.S. played in helping to remove and destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
“It is America –- our scientists, our doctors, our know-how –- that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again…
“And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future…
“America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden.
As Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.”
The president’s speech has already garnished plenty of reaction from both sides. Many Republicans are criticizing him for failing to add any significant details to his earlier statements about the U.S.’s military strategy for ISIS.
Of course, many of his supporters were quick to argue that revealing specific details about military strategy might not be a wise move from a strategic standpoint.
On both sides of the political spectrum, some people feel that the President is not doing enough to address the threat of ISIS in the Middle East, wanting him to take more decisive steps towards dismantling the group.
But at the same time, many Americans, Republican and Democrat alike, are extremely wary of entering another costly long-term conflict in the Middle East, one which could ultimately end up creating even more anti-Americanism and extremism in the region.
There is also mixed opinions on both sides about the President’s strategy to provide further arms and support to the Syrian rebels.
This is a very reasonable concern considering that many of the weapons and military equipment the United States sent to the Syrian opposition earlier this year ended up in the hands of ISIS, who quickly emerged as the largest and most powerful of these rebel groups before turning its sights on Iraq as well.
What do you think? Join the discussion in the comment section below.
You can watch Obama’s full speech below: